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Meet The Stylist Who Wants To Empower Your Life Through What You Wear

"I don’t consider myself a regular stylist."

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When we think of the life of a stylist, images of designer clothing, A-list celebs, flashing cameras and red carpet looks come to our minds. But what if styling could be about more than what we see on the surface? As we talked to Melissa Chataigne, founder of Chataigne Style Studio, we started to imagine the styling world as one that could inspire and empower our life, instead of just dress it up.

As a life-long dancer with a background in healthcare, Melissa decided to follow her passion for styling after struggling with the devastating experience of tearing her achilles heel. At first, the fashion world was a whirlwind of excitement and glamor as she dressed celebrities and assisted high-profile stylists, but she slowly started to feel like something was missing in her work. Then, she lost her sister Jenny and everything changed. Melissa's cause became helping women raise their self-esteem and confidence, and she knew styling was her key to changing lives.

Now, seven years later, she's spreading her message of style empowerment all across the U.S. We sat down with Melissa to hear more about her journey, her personal take on styling, her new Facebook Live show and why going back to sorority life has been a surprisingly good thing. 


Wheretoget: You’re an LA-based stylist whose ethos is “style empowerment.” Can you explain what that means to you?
Melissa Chataigne: Style empowerment is styling yourself with purpose and confidence. I truly believe clothing is just a costume unless there’s an intention behind it. I want all my clients to feel empowered to look their best and feel their best with what they’re wearing. 

When I dress someone for an event, I’m not just giving them the clothing, I’m giving them tools [to dress] better in every part of their life. My clients understand why they’re wearing what they’re wearing, and they really feel it in every aspect of the ensemble. It’s focusing on the psychology of the styling as opposed to just the fit. 

WTG: How did you become the type of stylist you are today?
MC: When I came to Los Angeles, I knew I wanted a change so I used to assist other stylists while I slowly made this transition. I did a lot more celebrity work then, and the big change for me was being an image-maker and seeing these A-list celebrities that had all the best help: the best makeup people, the best stylists, the best hair people… but they still had this lack of self-love and confidence. At the time, I was a size 14 or 16, wishing that I had this perfect body, but also seeing these girls that were a size 0 and 2 just absolutely hating their bodies. 

Then my sister Jenny, who was in college at the time — who I thought was the smartest, most confident girl — was suffering from bi-polar disorder and depression. She eventually succumbed to it by taking her own life. 

So I experienced this juxtaposition between being in Hollywood with these women and then experiencing my sister’s death, and… I couldn’t be around it. I had to take a step back for a while because I was so turned off by the celebrity world. 
 
While I knew I loved the creative side [of the fashion world], I also knew that I wanted to help women. I was reeling from the loss of my sister, and struggling with my own body issues, and had to do a lot of personal work on myself as a result. I feel like everyone gravitates towards work that echoes their experiences in some way, and I knew there had to be some path in fashion that was really me. I ended up turning to personal styling in part because of the pain I’d gone through and witnessed, and because I wanted to help others take back their power and self-confidence. 


WTG: How did you end up doing styling workshops for sororities? 
MC: A client came to me as an alumna of her sorority in Ohio, and asked me to help her house with self-esteem. After losing my sister, I felt there was such a void in helping young women in the world, and I knew this was my opportunity to make a difference, especially as a former sorority member.

I did not necessarily have the best experience in my [own] sorority. I was the only black girl in the house of 50 young white women. When I went to take a shower, everyone would want to touch my hair. At that time, that was a very traumatic experience. But I was a leader in my sorority, too, and liked those aspects about the experience. And that’s where I thought, wow, this would be interesting to go back, help this demographic and make the experience better for other young women.  

WTG: What do the participants experience in them? 
MC: The workshops are really customized. I talk to the rush chair or president to find out what the needs are [then, I begin by sharing] my personal story so they get to know more about me and my struggles. I talk about my sister Jenny, and I usually find that someone in the room has been through something similar. 

I ask questions like, “What are you preparing for?” A lot of times, these girls are preparing for internships for the summer, and they are told, “Ok, we’re going into a business-casual work environment,” and they have no idea what that means. So I break it down for them and say, “These are some key things you should have in your closet, these are good places to shop on a budget, these are good fabrics and cuts for your body type.” They’re college students who don’t have a lot of money, but don’t necessarily want to buy everything at Forever 21. So I help them along those lines. 

Most importantly, we talk about what body-shaming is. There’s a point in the workshop where I say, “Who hates their thighs?” And I grab my thighs and talk about how I've always been self-conscious of them, but now I recognize their power. I’ll lift my shirt up to show my tummy in front of 100 young women to show them my stretch marks, and say, “I release this, and it no longer brings me pain, and I want to let it go.” And then before you know it, I have ten girls popping up and showing stretch marks and thunder thighs and saying, “I release my shame about my body.” And to see that is amazing. 

Image: Kaye McCoy

WTG: Obviously you’re very passionate about being an entrepreneur, so much so that you started a Facebook Live show called “Style with Purpose”. Can you talk about the show and the impetus behind taking your message live?
MC: After the 2016 presidential election, I was so frustrated with not being able to make the change I wanted with voting, so I said, "If I can affect my community on a smaller level, I will." The goal is to highlight creatives and entrepreneurs who are making a positive change in their community through style. The people that I’ve interviewed are amazing. Jewelry designers, directors, choreographers – people [who] are doing amazing projects and making it a point to give back to the community.
 
WTG: What would you say to younger people out there who are starting out or interested in the working in styling and the fashion world?
MC: I would say just don’t wait. I feel like I was so scared to make the leap. But when you do, don’t try and copy people. I get calls all the time from people wanting to be my assistant, and they say, “I want to do what you do”. Well, I’m not going to hire you for one reason: I want you to do you. It’s about coming up with your own niche that speaks to what you love to do. Find your own views of things; that’s the way to be different. 


Feeling inspired? Follow Melissa's advice and choose clothes that make you feel confident. And don't forget to tune into her Facebook Live show, Style With Purpose, Tuesdays at noon PST for more ways to take on the world.
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You can follow Melissa Chataigne on Instagram @chataignestyle or on her website at Melissachataigne.com
Uncredited images: via 
@chataignestyle
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